Formula Records is the brainchild of DJ and producer, Champion - an artist who earned his stripes with influential grime label Butterz and now counts Four Tet as one of his biggest fans. The label itself was launched in 2011 with Champion’s ‘Lighter’; a UK Funky gem riddled with a fuzzy, super low-end bass line that still takes clubs apart at their seams. Despite a flurry of releases over the years following, it wasn’t until 2014 that Formula began to gather momentum and subsequently grow as a movement in itself. The addition of director Louis Cook in early 2014 saw an upturn in not only output, but art direction, events and branding - as evidenced by the release of the label’s inaugural compilation, f=BASS². Through their digital-only sub-label, F2, Formula have also bridged the A&R gap in a unique way too - rather than be forced to take a punt on less-established artists signing physical records, many join the ranks via F2 and, as Louis points out during our interview, it allows Formula to ‘try and get a handle on talent we like and want to work with’. Having helped kick-start the careers of producers like Killjoy, Notion and most notably Flava D, who incidentally releases her new double-single, ‘Wheels’ b/w ‘Bare Fields’, via Formula on April 8th, the label has also grown to build it’s own, colourful micro-scene of producers spanning everything from bassline and funky to house and even grime. It’s these myriad sounds, combined with a strong emphasis on events and branding, that have seen Formula become a key outpost for some of the UK’s most exciting dance music.
With their debut fabric slot only a week or so away, we caught up with Champion, Louis Cook and Terror Danjah - referred to a few times as 'Formula’s Think Tank’ during our conversation - to pick their brains about the label’s inner-workings, the importance of club nights and what it means to them to play here in EC1..
What is Formula Records all about? What would you say the vision for the label is?
Champion: Forward-thinking dance music. I wouldn’t even go as far as saying bass-driven or anything like that, it’s just about the sickest tunes we can play out and put out.
Louis: We dip into all sorts of stuff, but we still feel we’ve got our own sound. It transcends garage, house, grime, bassline and everything else as a proper fusion of different sounds and ideas.
Champion: It’s a hybrid really.
Louis: I think we’re getting to a stage musically where people are into the music from all over the place and from lots of different scenes. People seem to understand what we do now.
Champion: (Gestures) Please remember to reference Terror in this too, he was a key influence in all of this. He was here when I was still learning to cook! When we’d got that sorted, I was like ‘What shall I call this label?’ and between myself and Terror, we came up with Formula.
Terror Danjah: Formula represents a good, clean identity - it can mean loads of things too, so it was perfect for what Champion wanted to do with the label.
How and why did you make the decision to start Formula as your own imprint?
Champion: It was hard back in 2009-10 to find the right placement for my music. For example, my track ‘Lighter’ - that tune was so fresh that at the time, no one knew what to do with it really. I’d always wanted to start a label, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready. I wasn’t used to speaking to distributors, or racing up to Music House in a cab to pick up records, but I’m glad I did it. I’m glad Formula began with ‘Lighter’ too because even though I thought the amount we shifted were rookie numbers, it turns out they were actually pretty good.
Terror Danjah: [When he told me] I was like ‘bruv, that’s brilliant!’
Champion: Just before I released ‘Lighter’, Butterz had put out ‘Woooo’ and shifted a lot of records, so I was comparing myself and my own label to that. I went in head first! I was spending £40 getting myself from Newbury Park to Music House just to get everything done properly. I'd got my music money for the first time though, so I was excited.
If you had to pick out some key Formula releases then, what would they be - and why?
Champion: Notion’s EP was the first music I’d released from somebody other than myself, so that’ll always be a big one.
Champion: ‘In The Dance’ felt like it established Flava D and the sound at the time, as well as the label. She was sending me clips of the track on WhatsApp for a while because she wasn’t sure of where she was at with it. Lorenzo and all those guys were about, but she bought that 4x4 speed garage element to it. I almost feel like ‘In The Dance’ has become the template for a lot of stuff now. It was a nice way to A&R it too and it was the first time I’d worked with the producer to make it the right track for Formula.
Champion: I think this has to go down as the last big funky tune. Marcus Nasty played it during the the UK funky Boiler Room session as his last track, and he himself called it the ‘last big funky tune’. For him to have said that on record, that’s gotta be a key moment for us.
Louis: The fact that we put a compilation of 14 tracks together and to know we could do it, as well as working with 6 or 7 different artists, was a big thing. That was the first thing we’d done together since releasing stuff digitally too. It really helped with getting that brand idea across to people - the shows, the music and the label as a whole.
Champion: (To Louis) I feel like the levels went up tenfold with it and that was the first time we ran a night together in South London too, we played at Hidden.
Louis: That whole year, what we put out, in terms of how we presented it, how much we released - it set the precedent for what we’re aiming to do year-on-year. It was about communicating our message to people and getting people to really understand Formula as a label.
How does the A&R process work between yourselves?
Champion: I take more of a lead on A&R because a lot of demos come straight to me. it’s often a case of me being out and hearing tunes and approaching artists directly too. I’ll just hit people up on the spot like, “That tune is fucking sick, I want it, give it to me!”. One hundred percent of the time that works too - I swear!
Terror Danjah: It’s about 70% of the time [laughs].
Champion: Seriously though, more now than ever, I like to work with the artist and go back-and-forth over emails to get releases right. I mix and master myself too which helps, but the main thing is that I have to hear the tracks out, that’s what sells records to me. I need to hear how tracks sounds on a system - everything I put out, I need to champion.
Louis: With the F2 digital-only side, there’ll be people you’ll be thinking about and look at that might need to go through that process, that whole playing out process. There’s always people there, but that’s what’s F2 is for - building people up. We use it to try and get a handle on talent we like and want to work with.
Champion: It has to be right. I will never put out anything I can’t play and as long as I stick to that ethos, we’ll keep it moving.
How does your working relationship work?
Champion: Mainly text, which can get a bit heavy [laughs].
Louis: We’ll chat once a week properly, but it depends on what else we have going on. I have some weeks when I’m working from home which makes everything a lot easier. One of us tends to pick up the slack when the other is busy or unavailable.
Champion: It’s very informal the way we do things. It’ll usually just be a text; ‘yo, did you see that email?’, followed by, ‘yeah, cool’ and then, ‘what you saying anyway?’.
Louis: As we’ve learnt how we both work, if I’m off for a bit then Champion can take control of things and likewise if he’s away in Europe say, then I’ll take it up.
Do you disagree on anything?
Champion: We don’t disagree on much, although on Flava D’s artwork we’ve had a few back-and-forth emails..
Louis: I just think we both just want shit to be as good as it can be.
Champion: I’ve gotta reference Terror again here too, I always refer to him as the Formula think tank. He’s been really valuable in that respect. The way it works is informal though like I said. I like the way things are running at the moment.
With fabric on the horizon, what would you say events mean in terms of helping to build Formula’s identity?
Champion: They’re integral. They help with the releases especially, but people also want to see what we’re all up to as well.
Louis: We’ll have headliners that we haven’t released music from some time but there’s always a link there - the events always function around a core roster of our own talent.
Champion: Lenny from Audio Doughnuts/Beat Werk is also officially part of the team now too. so we’ll say to him 'we wanna do this and that' and we all bounce ideas back and forth. I might secure the artists, Lenny will do the promotion and Louis will look after everything else. I still feel like there’s a lot more to do though.
Louis: We haven’t found a full-time home yet, but we’ve got into the groove a bit as a team now, where as maybe before it wasn’t as focused.
Champion: At our last event at The Bussey Building in Peckham, we had R&B and hip hop from Lenny, bassline from Dexplicit, Terror played a bashment set and D Double E jumped on mic to host my set. It’s so varied man!
Louis: You want to get into the heads of the people coming along and across all our events, you’ll hear the different strands of music that feed into Formula as a label.
Champion: Lenny dropped ‘Truffle Butter’ by Nicki Minaj and it went off you know.
Louis: It’s worked really well the last few times we’ve done it at The Bussey.
Champion: That’s the ethos myself and Terror were exposed to pre-electronic music. Terror played bashment, I did bashment - we’re taking what we did before and making it work now. Everything from the way the hosting is done to the way the timings of the sets are organised is all stuff we work on getting just right.
Terror Danjah: I’ve come from a place where 3-4000 people would be raving, where as now we’re playing in much smaller spaces.
Champion: If you weren’t around back then, you wouldn’t know how to do it but for us - the whistles, the horns - we know all of that. The last Bussey Building party we did actually felt like the early Butterz raves at Cable. We went to Tesco, filled up the trolley with drink and carried it all to the club. It was a proper party.
Terror Danjah: That’s how it should be. That vibe is so important because when you’re playing, it resonates with the crowd.
Champion: Every artist who played our last party at The Bussey Building was on the stage by the end of the night. D Double even got on the decks and went nuts. You don’t see that in a normal rave you know? I was on stage with like 20 MCs during my set, jumping around like a mad man - it was crazy.
What do you think playing at fabric as a label will be like? How does it feel to have been given the opportunity?
Champion: First of all, as much as I’ve played at the club before, it’s still overwhelming to see our label on a flyer.
Louis: For anyone that starts a label, you want to do something at fabric, so to go there, do our thing and bring that Formula party vibe to fabric will be special.
Champion: It feels like the label has grown up really. We’re gonna try our hardest to recreate what we did at The Bussey Building.
Can you tell us a bit about what to expect from the line-up?
Champion: We tried to fit in as we could in the four hours. I’m gonna play as much Formula material as I can and I think Terror is gonna come in too. Mike Delinquent is a new addition too, but he’s got a sick release coming with us and he’s a legend really. Killjoy too - he’s someone we’ve really tried to work with and build over the last few years..
Louis: The ‘Like This’ single with D Double E was great for him, but we want to keep giving him more.
Champion: He took the edginess from his dubstep education and flipped it to 130. We’re pushing him hard and even though we just missed out on this night being his fabric debut, I’m still glad we can bring him back.
Louis: It’ll be nice to have Bok Bok & Oneman there too, it’s a good fit.
Champion: Basically, the whole team is gonna rock up and go ham for four hours.